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Making Choices/Accepting Limits

How many times in your life have you discovered your limits by exceeding them? In my considerable experience, the consequences can be quite painful. At the same time, how could I have ever learned to appreciate and respect my limits if I never tested them? And, more often than not, what appeared to be limits were just challenging opportunities to grow. As Halley observes in relation to organizations ("Toward a Formal Theory of Boundaries", 1995, p. 282), there is a kind of "Goldilocks Principle" at work here. Boundaries (eg, rules) too rigid and strict stunt growth and innovation, and breed discontent booundaries too loose. (quote)

The sweet spot, where boundaries are strong and firm enough to serve their function as limits but permeable enough to allow cross-boundary learning and growth, she calls "fluid boundaries".. presumably leaving open the question of the speed and volume of the fluid, whether slow as molasses or fast as a mountain stream, to be determined by judgments in specific circumstances.

As I've aged, my calculus has changed: I'm more cautious and risk-averse, more conscious of likely negative consequences. More prudence is better, no doubt, but self-imposed limits out of fear is not. Timidity only solidifies the limits and narrows my range of choices. To illustrate: If you stop climbing stairs because you are afraid you might fall, you shrink your world.

Our understanding of our limits shapes and defines our range of choices. "Freedom lies in the recognition of necessity." (Hegel?). Limits simultaneously constrain and enable the range of choice.

At the same time, making choices imposes new limits. Every option chosen forecloses a thousand others. My strategy as a young man was generally to make choices that kept my options open. And this was career/life advice I commonly gave my graduate students newly embarked on a public service career.

I now suspect that what I prized was the FEELING that I was free to choose other directions, and that my actual options were highly constrainedand defined by my life circumstances, obligations, desires. Such illusions can be useful. but reality often intrudes, and not pleasantly.

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